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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. The present study examined how being in a same-sex couple can result in exposure to unique minority stressors not ed for at the individual level. Relationship timeline interviews were conducted with same-sex couples equally distributed across two study sites Atlanta and San Franciscogender male and femaleand relationship duration at least six months but less than three years, at least three years but less than seven years, and seven or more years.

Directed content analyses identified 17 unique couple-level minority stressors experienced within nine distinct social contexts. Analyses also revealed experiences of dyadic minority stress processes stress discrepancies and stress contagion. These findings can be useful in future efforts to better understand and address the cumulative impact of minority stress on relational well-being and individual health. The concept of minority stress Brooks ; Meyer; Meyer and Frost is rooted in broader theories of social stress Dohrenwend ; Pearlinwhich posit that social stressors—events or circumstances that require individuals to adapt to changes intrapersonally, interpersonally, or in their environment—can diminish well-being.

As such, minority stressors exist on a continuum of proximity to the self. Stressors most distal to the self are objective stressors based primarily in the environment, such as prevailing stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. Minority stressors diminish psychological well-being and for disparities in multiple health outcomes between sexual minority and heterosexual populations Frost a ; Frost and LeBlanc ; Frost, Lehavot, and Meyer ; Frost and Meyer ; Green ; Hatzenbuehler ; Hatzenbuehler et al. Political and legal debates over same-sex marriage have cast a spotlight on same-sex relationships and sexual minority health e.

Research suggests that recent state-level bans on same-sex marriage were negatively associated with sexual minority mental health Hatzenbuehler et al. Studies also suggests a positive association between same-sex marriage and mental health among sexual minority populations Wight et al. Despite the U. Hodgesthe social, political, and legal controversies surrounding same-sex marriage in the United States are deeply rooted. Their effects endure over time, and they vary across social settings and geographic locations Frost and Fingerhut A small of studies over the past two decades have shown that heightened experiences of minority stress are associated with lower relationship quality for same-sex couples Caron and Ulin ; Doyle and Molix ; Frost and Meyer ; Otis et al.

However, a more concentrated line of inquiry is needed to advance theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of minority stress in relational context. When individuals become part of a same-sex couple, they may then become vulnerable to unique couple-level minority stressors that are not reducible to their experiences as sexual minority individuals. Couple-level minority stressors may be experienced by individual partners or tly by couples as a result of the stigmatized status of their relationship, in and of itself.

In other words, when their intimate relationships are devalued or diminished by society, individuals may face hardships or adversity as a result. They may also face such challenges together as people who are tly stigma-tized because their relationship represents a stigmatized relationship form. It is the source of this stress i. To contrast individual- and couple-level minority stressors, take the example of a man who hides the fact that he is gay from his friends, whom he perceives to be homophobic, to avoid rejecting or unsupportive reactions.

This instance constitutes individual minority stress in the forms of expectations of rejection and identity concealment. However, if this same man were to start a relationship with another man, his status as a member of a same-sex couple will likely result in exposure to additional stressors, above and beyond what he may experience as an individual. In addition to his personal identity concealment, he and his partner may now be faced with managing the visibility of their relationship. This constitutes a couple-level minority stressor in the form of couple-level concealment.

In all forms of couple-level minority stress, the root source of stress is social disadvantage associated with same-sex relationships, as opposed to disadvantages related to individual experience. The concept of couple-level minority stress allows for a fuller understanding of minority stress in the lives of sexual minority persons not only as individuals but also as partners in intimate relationships LeBlanc et al.

First, couple-level minority stressors have the potential to negatively affect relationship quality and the well-being of each partner. Such effects may occur as a result of unexamined stress processes involving stressors that emerge in relational contexts and not only stressors that have been conceived of and assessed as individual-level phenomena. Although researchers have examined the dyadic nature of more generally experienced social stressors e.

Therefore, the primary aim of the present study was to determine the nature of couple-level minority stressors as a potentially critical source of additional stress in the lives of sexual-minority persons. Second, couple-level minority stressors likely play a role in important processes of stress proliferation in the lives of same-sex couples.

Studies of stress proliferation have usefully focused on stress experiences within key social roles, the obligations of such roles, and the social and interpersonal interactions attached to them Milkie For example, researchers have studied stress contagion in the forms of stress spillover through intrapersonal processes and stress crossover through interpersonal processes in the context of familial relationships between spouses and between parents and children e.

Similarly, distinct processes of stress proliferation have been examined among informal caregivers and care recipients e. Such a role-based framing of stress proliferation has provided fertile ground for understanding the stress experience, illustrating not only that stress moves within the lives of individuals but also that it is shared between persons whose lives are linked.

Adding to this literature, we examine stress proliferation in the context of a stigmatized identity or status.

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Although it is well understood that stigma-tized individuals face stressors that are unique to their marginalized social status, their experiences of minority stress in the context of their intimate relationships—in particular, regarding the marginalization of their relationships in and of themselves—are poorly understood. Developing better understandings of stress processes affecting people in same-sex relationships requires careful consideration of the social climate in which they live.

Although same-sex marriage is now legal in the U. Prior to the U. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Despite this landmark decision at the federal level, state- and local-level policy environments remain diverse, some characterized by acts of defiance and resistance to implementing the federal law. Therefore, stressors rooted in legal and institutional contexts remain important to study. Indeed, as same-sex couples gain rights and visibility, they may consequently experience stressors that have yet to be conceptualized.

The fact that sexual minority persons face stressful interactions—in familial contexts, workplace environments, social interactions, service settings, and public spaces—has been well documented. How all of these social contexts shape the experience of couple-level minority stress—both interpersonally and intrapsychically—has yet to be systematically investigated. Understanding how couple-level minority stress-ors are experienced across varying social contexts is also of theoretical importance. Unique stressors, whether they are eventful or chronic in nature, are not always contained to specific domains of life.

Rather they move with the person—and with couples—from place to place. As such, any given minority stressor, for example, unfair treatment or discrimination, may be experienced in multiple social contexts, such as in familial or workplace settings. Understanding how minority stressors manifest in varied social contexts is therefore essential.

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Some same-sex couples may face considerable discrimination from their families of origin but relatively little in their workplaces or within their social networks. Ignoring the fullest range of social contexts affecting the experience of minority stress is therefore problematic. In this research, we examine 1 the nature of couple-level minority stress in the lives of people in same-sex relationships, 2 the varied social contexts in which such stressors are experienced, and 3 the dyadic stress processes through which minority stressors individual- and couple-level proliferate between partners in same-sex relationships.

Participants in this study were same-sex couples, 60 in each of the two study sites San Francisco and Atlanta. Therefore, we did not include people who cohabited and shared resources but had never been sexually involved. We did not limit inclusion to couples who cohabited or to those who were registered as domestic partners or were married in a symbolic, religious, or legal ceremony because we wished to include a range of relationship arrangements present among gay men and lesbians. We employed a modified targeted nonprobability recruitment strategy Meyer, Schwartz, and Frost ; Meyer and Wilson ; Watters and Biernacki We began by using an ethno-graphic approach to identify key locations and venues frequented by same-sex couples in the two study sites Meyer et al.

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These included select neighborhoods and business districts. Our approach identified venues that yielded high proportions of racial-ethnic minorities. In order to minimize bias inherent to community samples of sexual minority populations, we avoided recruitment from venues that overrepresented individuals with high levels of mental health problems and stressful life events e.

Trained recruiters approached individuals, couples, and small groups to provide study information, which included a study website and toll-free for more information and screening for potential eligibility. Study information was also disseminated through local mainstream and gay newspapers and appropriate websites, listservs, and social media. In total, individuals completed the study screener, and of those, were in same-sex relationships. From among these individuals, eligible couples were identified, and of those, couples were enrolled using a stratified sampling strategy.

Our seven-year benchmark distinguishing long-term couples is in keeping with a general finding—from studies of heterosexual marriages—that the risk of relationship dissolution increases in the early years, reaches a peak, and then steadily declines with time Kulu Within each of these threeparticipating couples were evenly split across the two study sites and couple gender. Finally, we also ensured that participants were recruited from diverse recruitment venues by requiring that at least three different recruitment venue types be represented within each sampling stratum.

Each couple met on one occasion together with an interviewer for an audiotaped discussion lasting approximately two hours. The interviewers received extensive training in research conduct with a diverse sample of same-sex couples. Both partners were present for the full interview. This relationship timeline method was deed to elicit narratives about events and periods of time involving multiple life domains, including experiences that were seen as positive, negative, or a mixture of the two.

Couples worked together to rate each event or period in terms of how stressful it was. Moreover, they were not initially instructed to focus in particular on minority stressors per se until after they had labeled and rated each event or period on the timeline. Only then did the interviewers instruct participants to revisit the events and periods on the timeline and deate those involving minority stress, some of which may not have been initially described as such.

The interviewers then identified four events or periods for in-depth discussion: the highest-rated i. These four, some involving minority stress and some not, were then discussed in detail. We employed narrative methods for the study of stigma and stress in relationships Frost b to elicit stories that revealed the subjective experiences of stress, the nature and social context of those experiences, and how couples attempted to manage related challenges. Specifically, the interviewer used a set of narrative prompts to ask couples to describe each selected event or period, noting the details of what happened, what they were thinking and feeling at the time, and how the event or period affected their daily lives as a couple.

The resulting narratives were then subject to our analysis for developing qualitative understandings of couple-level minority stressors and relevant stress processes LeBlanc et al. A modified directed content analysis Hsieh and Shannon was employed to describe the nature and prevalence of content related to unique couple-level experiences of minority stress.

For this analysis, we defined couple-level minority stressors as those stressors that were unique to the experiences of individuals in same-sex relationships or the shared experiences of partners in same-sex couples. We used an iterative process to create a code-book for analysis available in the online supplemental material. The first three authors began by studying a subset of 12 interview transcripts to identify key concepts that were present in the data using existing theories of minority stress as a guide e.

This resulted in a draft codebook of couple-level minority stress constructs, their conceptual and operational definitions, and illustrative examples from 12 transcripts. We also generated a list of social contexts in which the couple-level minority stress constructs were experienced, based on participant s. A larger team of eight coders from across the two study sites met in person to discuss the draft codebook and receive training in NVivo. At this meeting, the team attempted to apply the initial codes to a new subset of interviews and discussed any discrepancies in our understanding of these codes and the coding process.

This led to a finalized codebook. Each of the transcripts was then independently coded by two team members. Coding discrepancies were identified using NVivo and discussed and resolved at weekly cross-site tele-conferences. First, we examined the frequency and distribution of couple-level minority stress codes within the sample, and then we examined the frequencies of co-occurrences between couple-level minority-stress codes and social-context codes so that we could determine the most frequent social contexts in which couple-level minority stress was experienced.

Narratives identified by the coding team during the directed content analysis were explored further to determine the degree to which such experiences exemplified dyadic minority stress processes, as ly theorized LeBlanc et al. As we discuss further below, dyadic minority stress processes that include individual-level experiences of minority stress also contribute to couple-level minority stress. The content analysis indicated that couples experienced 17 distinct couple-level minority stressors. The conceptual definitions of these couple-level minority stressors are presented in Table 1alongside two illustrative exemplars of and the of couples out of whose interviews contained mention of each.

We present these for the full sample as well as separately by gender. Each unique couple-level minority stressor discussed in the text is noted in italics and corresponds to the data exemplars provided in Table 1. Context codes are provided when relevant. The most commonly mentioned couple-level minority stressors were experiences of rejection, devaluation, and discrimination —being treated differently or devalued by others because of being in a same-sex couple—and fears of rejection, devaluation, and discriminationor fearing differential treatment or devaluation from others going into a situation regardless of whether or not that differential treatment or rejection actually occurred.

Additionally, structural forms of discrimination were frequently discussed by couples as consequences of unequal legal recognition of same-sex relationships. With the exception of 10 participating couples five in Californiainterviews were conducted prior to the U. Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in California U. Windsorand all were conducted prior to the U.

Supreme Court ruling that made same-sex marriage legal across the country Obergefell v. In line with more proximal forms of couple-level minority stress, couples discussed stress related to both hiding their same-sex relationship from others sometimes even when they were out as sexual minority individuals and negotiating when, how, and to whom they would or should tell others about their relationship i.

In sum, the ly discussed forms of couple-level minority stressors corresponded to classically defined minority stressors experienced by sexual minority individuals Meyerbut these stress-ors resulted from being part of a same-sex couple and therefore would not be experienced by single sexual minority individuals.

As a result, they may represent an additive stress burden borne by individuals in same-sex relationships. Participants described stress related to ensuring that the places e. For example, couples researched laws and attitudes about same-sex couples in foreign countries, border control policies related to presenting as a same-sex couple, and hotel accommodations for two people of the same sex. Couples also experienced feeling public scrutinyfor instance, when they felt that other people were staring or gawking at them in public places.

In short, just as individuals may face the dilemma of potentially hiding the fact that they are a sexual minority person as a protective mechanism when looking for places to live or travel, partners individually and couples collectively may face similar challenges.

Stress also emerged for same-sex couples in the form of strained relationships with family and community. Participants expressed that they faced limitations to participation in families of origin, such as not being able to attend celebrations together with a partner or not being able to spend time with children e. For example, a woman who is lesbian may be welcome to attend the family Christmas party on her own but not if she wished to bring her partner along.

Additionally, she might attend the party on her own but knowing ahead of time that conversations about her partner would not be allowed. Finally, same-sex couples might attend family events together under the clear expectation—either implied or enforced—that they not present themselves as a couple. Additionally, participants noted how they felt like they were excluded from social support that heterosexual couples typically enjoy.

For example, some couples felt their family and friends at times did not take them seriously when they needed help with a relationship problem. This exclusion from support was discussed as a stressor stemming from the social stigma surrounding same-sex relationships and is thus viewed as a couple-level stressor rather than solely as a lack of support.

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